CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaiian Airlines captain Craig Kobayashi held a University of Hawaii flag upon arrival with the football team at Honolulu Airport yesterday.
Colt ready to bounce back
» Colt carries Hawaii’s disappointment with him
» Warriors bring pride home from bowl
» Warrior replay
It was a sight we'd never seen until Tuesday. Even after the rare loss, Colt Brennan was never down -- just anxious for the next opportunity.
But Brennan moped briefly after Hawaii absorbed a 41-10 shellacking in the Sugar Bowl, ending the Warriors' 13-game winning streak. He wandered the field aimlessly for a minute or two. Then encouragement from an unexpected source bucked him up.
"Come on Colt, keep your head up baby," said Georgia safety Kelin Johnson.
Brennan looked up and smiled. Then he joined a postgame prayer circle, one arm on freshman receiver Greg Salas, the other on a Georgia manager.
Yesterday, Brennan returned to Hawaii with most of his teammates and coaches. His next game is the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., the premier college all-star game. Hopefully three weeks is enough time to overcome the effects of eight sacks Tuesday.
Meanwhile, defensive end Amani Purcell accepted an invitation to next week's Hula Bowl.
"It takes a little of the sting out," said Purcell, who joins teammates C.J. Hawthorne, Mike Lafaele, Jake Patek, Jason Rivers and Herc Satele in the Jan. 12 game at Aloha Stadium.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
UH quarterback Colt Brennan and offensive line coach Dennis McKnight shared a laugh after landing in Hawaii yesterday.
Colt carries Hawaii’s disappointment with him
As soon as Colt Brennan announced his decision to return for his senior season, he became the poster boy for what would be a magical season.
The Heisman Trophy finalist spent all year downplaying his individual performances, choosing to single out his teammates and their accomplishments instead.
When the Western Athletic Conference postseason awards came out, Brennan was instrumental in establishing honors for his entire receivers unit, telling commissioner Karl Benson he wanted to share an award with the entire group of receivers if named player of the year.
So it was only fitting, less than 24 hours after a painful 41-10 loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, that the greatest quarterback in the program's history singled himself out for the way the Warriors played.
"I take full responsibility," a battered and bruised Brennan said shortly after getting off the team bus. "I kind of feel like I let a lot of people down."
Never mind the fact that he was pummeled by a relentless Georgia defense that never let him get comfortable in the pocket.
In addition to the eight sacks, he was hit numerous times after throwing the ball. Yet Brennan still stood back there trying to make a play, and would have continued to do so had his coaches let him.
"I wanted to (stay in the game) so bad," Brennan said. "I wish that Coach (Jones) would have let me play the rest of the game."
Brennan said he didn't suffer any serious injuries, but admitted to being "extremely sore" as he was hounded by local media as soon as he stepped off the bus.
It would have been easy for him to fade into the night on his own. He had the hopes of an entire state on his shoulders just one day earlier. By the end of the biggest game in school history, he could do nothing but watch from the sidelines as the Warriors were thumped soundly.
"I was just so distraught and upset," Brennan said. "The emotions of the game and the way the game was, combined with the fact that I just got hit, I was just all over the place."
In addition to all that, he had to spend most of the day on a plane ride back home, where he hadn't been for a week.
After he obliged all of the media requests outside the Stan Sheriff Center parking lot, he moved on to the handful of fans that waited on campus to try to get one last autograph.
You could tell he was still hurt, both physically and emotionally, but it didn't keep him from sending a few more kids home happy.
For Brennan, part of the fun in returning for his senior season is the love that the state of Hawaii has given him.
"We appreciate everything that the fans have done for us this year," he said. "This is a great learning experience for everybody. Now that we have been there we have learned from it, If we ever get there again, we'll be more ready for it."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii defensive end John Fonoti received a hug from his mother, Vao, at the Hawaiian Airlines terminal yesterday.
Warriors bring pride home from bowl
June Jones wasn't ready to talk upon Hawaii's arrival from New Orleans yesterday, but that didn't mean many of the Warriors players and coaches weren't ready to reflect on the Sugar Bowl and season as a whole.
The team members who returned to Oahu yesterday aboard a Hawaiian Airlines charter were greeted by music and hula dancers at Honolulu International Airport before being quickly bused to the UH campus. The coaches rounded up the players behind the four buses first, and Jones gave them some final encouragement before the Warriors went on their way.
"He said to be proud. We accomplished a lot, we had a great season," said Mike Lafaele, defensive tackle and team captain. "He told us he loved us and we love him too, he's a great coach. There's nothing to hold our heads down for, just be proud of what we did for this state and for our program."
Despite the 41-10 drubbing his team suffered at the hands of No. 4 Georgia on New Year's Day, defensive coordinator Greg McMackin still considers the team's watershed season his favorite spanning a career that includes stints with several NFL teams and college programs.
"I think 12-0, the way they accomplished the 12-0, was outstanding and just a class bunch of guys who played with heart," McMackin said.
It turned out to be a positive trip for at least one Warrior. Wide receiver C.J. Hawthorne visited home in Biloxi, Miss., during the trip. His mother, Clemencia, attended one of his college games for the first time, making a memorable trip even more so.
"I would have hoped that we'd have done better, her being there for one of the first games ever, you know, (but) it was great," Hawthorne said. "She got to see my son (Kobe), and it's a lot of positives."
He appreciated the level of fan support after the disheartening loss, both at the Louisiana Superdome and at the team's arrival at the Stan Sheriff Center, where they were received by several dozen people.
"Oh man, it was unbelievable. It touched my heart," he said. "It helped me truly see how these people of Hawaii really are. It was a blessing man, it was a blessing."
Speculation has surrounded Jones about his contract, set to expire over the summer, and the coach was obviously in no mood to discuss it yet. While McMackin said he hadn't thought about Jones' contract or talked it over with him, offensive line coach Dennis McKnight offered some thoughts.
"He's turned down jobs every year he's been here," McKnight said. "So that's always going to be in the forefront, somebody calling to see if he's available. I know it happened immediately after the '99 season, the 2000 season, last year people called. They're always going to call because he's a winner, he takes programs and teams that have not had success and puts them at the level we have. He's done it everywhere he's been."
Associate coach George Lumpkin has been with the program in one capacity or another for the last three decades, and then some, so he has the perspective to place the season in the proper context.
"I've coached at the University of Hawaii for 32 years and played here two years," Lumpkin said. "To see the program from where it was when I first got here to where it is now is remarkable. I think (the players) deserved this trip, they deserved the exposure, they deserved the fan support."
Lafaele and Hawthorne, seniors both, feel good about the direction of the program following the 12-1 season.
"It's sad for me to leave. I'll never forget the guys, the relationships I made with all of my teammates," Lafaele said. "I'm just excited to move forward and I'm happy for the young guys. It's their time to shine."
Hawthorne didn't feel the team could have asked for more this season.
"I really don't think so," he said. "I think we could have played this better, but overall, man, just the joy and spirit of love and being able to persevere, and the hope that's been brought to this island and the people of Hawaii -- it's been brought to a totally different level."
But it was the oft-fiery McKnight who perhaps put things in the best perspective.
"Like I told our kids after the game, I said: 'Guys, if that game is the worst thing that'll happen to you in your life, you're going to have a wonderful life.' "
Five big plays from Hawaii's 41-10 loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl
Chosen and described by the Star-Bulletin sportswriter Dave Reardon
1. Bad Start
The Setup: Hawaii 0, Georgia 0, around 14:40 remaining, first quarter, Hawaii ball, first and 10 at own 45.
The Play: Hawaii fails to snap the ball before the 25-second clock expires, causing a 5-yard penalty for delay of game.
The Impact: Combined with a false start by RT Keoni Steinhoff for another 5-yard penalty, a fine return of 36 yards by Malcolm Lane is negated and Hawaii goes three and out.
Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan: "I walked out to the field for the huddle and before I even stepped on the field the play clock was rolling. There's little things like that. Everything was different."
2. Settling for three
The Setup: Georgia 7, Hawaii 0, around 5:00 remaining, first quarter, Hawaii ball, second and 13 at Georgia 21.
The Play: Brennan completes a pass to RB David Farmer that goes for 5 yards, but WR Jason Rivers is flagged for a personal foul for contact after the play against CB Asher Allen.
The Impact: Hawaii loses a down and the ball goes back to the 31. Following RB Kealoha Pilares' 7-yard run on third down, K Dan Kelly makes a 41-yard field goal.
Rivers: "I didn't hear the whistle. I'm never the one to get that penalty. I was just trying to keep my block."
3. Sack and score
The Setup: Georgia 24, Hawaii 3, around 9:00 remaining, third quarter, Hawaii ball, third and 10 at Hawaii 14.
The Play: DE Marcus Howard sacks Brennan, knocking the ball loose. Howard recovers in the Hawaii end zone for a touchdown.
The Impact: Hawaii had picked up some momentum with an interception by Jake Patek, but this play gives it right back to Georgia with a 31-3 lead. Brennan also hurts his hand on Howard's helmet. Howard, with three sacks, the forced fumble, recovery and touchdown, is voted the game's most outstanding player.
Howard: "(The coaches) preached to us to get off, get off (on the silent snap count) for like two or three weeks, and that's what happened."
4. Colt knocked out
The Setup: Georgia 41, Hawaii 3, around 13:00 remaining, fourth quarter, Hawaii ball, second and 4 at Hawaii 41.
The Play: Georgia DT Geno Atkins sacks Brennan for a loss of 4 yards.
The Impact: This is the final play of the career of the best player in Hawaii history. Brennan is diagnosed with concussion symptoms after his eighth sack, and does not return to the game. He finishes his poorest outing in three seasons with 22 completions in 38 attempts for 169 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Brennan: "I was destroyed that I couldn't go back in there."
5. Passing the baton
The Setup: Georgia 41, Hawaii 3, 10:32 remaining, fourth quarter, Hawaii ball, third and 10 at Georgia 16.
The Play: Backup QB Tyler Graunke finds SB Ryan Grice-Mullins wide open in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
The Impact: Hawaii avoids going without a touchdown in a game for the first time since a 69-3 loss at Boise State in 2004. Graunke, expected to be the No. 1 QB with Brennan's departure, completes 13 of 19 passes for 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Graunke: "I saw a lot of guys with their heads down. I wanted them to show some spirit because I know we can play with them."